Saturday, November 07, 2009

If they feel 'offended,' you're fired

Professor claims he was canned on mystery harassment charge

A college professor in Georgia is whirling in confusion right now, reprimanded and apparently threatened with termination without any specific charges, hearings or evidence of wrongdoing – only the school administration's allegation that he "offended" someone.

The troubles for Professor Thomas Thibeault of East Georgia College seem to have begun during an Aug. 5 faculty sexual harassment training seminar, when he questioned the assertion – as he understood it – being presented by Mary Smith, the school's vice president for legal affairs, that the feelings of the offended constituted proof of offensive behavior. "What provision is there in the sexual harassment policy to protect the accused against complaints which are malicious or … ridiculous?" Thibeault asked.

According to Thibeault's description of the events, Smith replied, "There is no provision in the policy. I must emphasize that if the person feels offended then the incident must be reported to the college authorities."

"So there is no protection against a false accusation?" Thibeault pressed. "No," Smith is said to have responded. "Then the policy itself is flawed," commented Thibeault.

Two days later, a police chief was waiting to escort Thibeault off campus. The professor, under the circumstances, believed he was fired. Then in subsequent weeks, Thibeault was informed his contract would not be renewed for the following year and that a faculty committee had concluded he violated the college's sexual harassment policy. For doing what, for saying what, Thibeault still doesn't know.

Thibeault shortly thereafter contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which immediately fired off a letter of protest. Said FIRE spokesman Adam Kissel, "The professor still has not received anything in writing detailing what he is accused of doing. … If professors can't engage in vigorous debate on college campuses, who can?" But the letter from FIRE to the school got down to business:

"The Supreme Court has explicitly held on numerous occasions that speech cannot be restricted simply because it offends people. In 'Street v. New York,' 394 U.S. 576, 592 (1969), the court held that '[i]t is firmly settled that under our Constitution the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.' In 'Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri,' 410 U.S. 667, 670 (1973), the court held that 'the mere dissemination of ideas – no matter how offensive to good taste – on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of "conventions of decency,"'" it warned the school.

School officials declined to enter the conversation. "Since this matter is an ongoing personnel mater, I cannot discuss it," said school president John Black via e-mail.

FIRE officials said Thibeault was notified Oct. 20 "that he had been reinstated due to lack of evidence." But then Black issued the professor a "'reprimand' for unspecified 'offensive' speech – again without presenting any notice, hearing, evidence or witnesses."

"This case is far from over," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "President Black has added to his blatant abuses of power by reprimanding Professor Thibeault for his speech, but never bothering to mention precisely what his offense was. Black has already retaliated against Thibeault by informing him that his contract would not be renewed after the spring semester. The bullying tactics at this college are breathtaking."

In the interim, FIRE reported, Black first wrote Thibeault that since he failed to resign dismissal proceedings were begun, then wrote that a committee was appointed to conduct an inquiry, then said Thibeault had been suspended, not terminated.

"EGC and President Black have utterly failed to meet their constitutional and moral obligation to respect freedom of speech, academic freedom, and due process," Kissel said. "Black has punished protected speech without any due process whatsoever, and he has threatened further disciplinary action if someone else merely sends in a complaint. Meanwhile, he has not lifted his retaliatory decision not to rehire Thibeault for the next academic year."


Mandatory sex lessons for every 15-year-old in Britain

More Leftist assumptions. The rationale is to REDUCE teenage pregnancies but there have been various observations to the effect that it INCREASES sexual experimentation and hence pregnancies. Maybe that is what the Left really want. It suits their destructive urges

Sex education is to be made compulsory for all pupils, prompting fury from faith groups which said that the move would contravene the right for children to be educated in accordance with their parents’ beliefs.

All 15-year-olds must receive at least one year of sex and relationship lessons, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said yesterday. Those whose religious or moral values prevent them from attending will be classed as truants and may be punished by the school. Until now parents could opt out of lessons about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality until their children were 19.

Roman Catholic and Muslim groups said they would strongly oppose the move. Shahid Akmal, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s education board, said he would challenge the laws, which he called an imposition. “It is always better for the parents to talk to children about sex rather than the school over which the parents have no control,” he said.

The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales said it was “disappointed” that the “blanket right to withdrawal” had been removed.

Mr Balls said that lowering the age to 15 was “the most balanced, most practical and legally enforceable way” to satisfy the rights of parent and children. The move is central to the Government’s attempts to lower the teenage pregnancy rate, which rose for the first time since 2002, according to the latest figures. There were 41.9 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17-year-olds in 2007, up from 40.9 the year before. England has the highest rates of teenage mothers in Western Europe.

Yesterday’s decision, which is part of the move to put sex and drugs education on the national curriculum for the first time, comes after a two-year review and consultation.

The Government is pressing ahead despite its own research, which shows that the move is heavily opposed, with 79 per cent of the population backing the right of parents to exempt their children. One in three people in the survey of more than 6,000 said that this right should not be restricted by the child’s age. Under current rules, schoolchildren must be taught the biological facts of reproduction, usually during science classes. Every school has a sex education policy, but at present there is no statutory requirement for teaching about relationships or the social and emotional side of sexual behaviour. Under the new laws, to be enforced in 2011, schools will teach about the importance of marriage, civil partnerships and stable relationships in family life, as well as how to have sex.

Mr Balls said: “Sex and relationship education is a very important element and we see it as crucial to our drive to reduce teenage pregnancy.” Gill Frances, chairman of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, welcomed the new legislation. “We believe this is the biggest single step that can reduce teenage pregnancy rates,” she said. “Evidence shows that sex and relationships education helps young people delay early sex and make healthy choices when they eventually do become sexually active.”


British parents to be fined if they take their children out of sex lessons

Parents will face fines if they remove 15-year-old children from sex education lessons as they become part of the national curriculum for the first time. Lessons in relationships and sex will begin at five, with prescribed content for each age group. Parents will still be able to withdraw children on moral and religious grounds, but this right - which currently extends until students are 19 - will be lost at 15. Mothers and fathers risk being fined and prosecuted under anti-truancy laws.

Under current arrangements, secondary schools must teach sex education but can choose the content. Primary schools do not have to offer it at all. The shake-up, outlined by Children's Secretary Ed Balls, will affect 600,000 children from September 2011. It drew immediate protests. Campaigners said sex education in the last year of secondary school - to which all children will now be exposed - is often the most explicit, with pupils taught about how to use a condom and access to contraception and abortion.

Religious leaders said parents would 'vote with their feet'. The Government insists that only a 'tiny minority' of parents exercised their right to pull their children out of sex education. Mr Balls said it would not make sense to keep the age limit of 19, because teenagers can vote at 18 and the age of consent is 16.

In a Government-backed poll nearly a third of parents wanted to retain the right regardless of age. But another third said it should end at 11 and 20 per cent said there should be no opt-out at all. Mr Balls said the aim was for all children to have at least one year of sex education. He said the changes would help tackle teenage pregnancies. But critics said the Government's strategy of handing out contraceptives and spreading sex education was already failing.

Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: 'It is not for the state to become a parent. 'We will be making representations to fight for the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education. 'Some parents view exposure of their children to this sort of material as morally objectionable and morally corrupting.'

The Catholic Education Service said it was 'disappointed' the blanket right of withdrawal had been dropped. But the Right Reverend John Saxbee, chairman of the Church of England's Board of Education, said: 'Students already receive some sex education through the biology curriculum, for which there is no right for withdrawal. 'Giving students aged 15 and above access to factual information and the opportunity to discuss relationships in a supervised setting seems a responsible and appropriate response to a context where these topics are widely discussed among young people.'


Student beats the Australian Tax Office

Succeeds in claiming education expenses

UNIVERSITY undergraduates will be able to claim educational expenses as a tax deduction after a former student had a landmark win in the full Federal Court yesterday. Symone Anstis, a former Australian Catholic University student, was successful in her bid to claim $920 as self-education expenses after fighting the Taxation Office through a number of jurisdictions over three years.

While studying full-time to be a primary teacher, Ms Anstis worked as a part-time sales assistant for retail chain Katies, where she earned $14,946. She also received a youth allowance of $3622 during the 2006 income year. She claimed education expenses including travel costs, supplies for children during teaching rounds, student administration fees and depreciation of her computer.

The Tax Office rejected the claim, so Ms Anstis and her father, Michael, who is a qualified solicitor but does not work as a lawyer, fought it all the way to the hearing in Melbourne yesterday. The full court of the Federal Court upheld an earlier decision that because the former student had to be enrolled in a full-time course of study to get her assessable income of Youth Allowance, any costs incurred in the course of studying should be deductible.

"I am very happy with the outcome; my Dad did a very good job," she said. "When you are a student everything makes a difference, every little bit helps. I think I will be able to get $300 back. I have been waiting a long time but it will go pretty quickly."

Tax experts say hundreds of thousands of university students who receive Youth Allowance could benefit from the ruling, but they will need to generate a taxable income above $15,000. About 440,000 students receive Youth Allowance or Austudy. Many of these students would earn enough with the addition of part-time work to have a tax liability, according to Asssociate Professor Dale Boccabella from the University of NSW.

He said items including computer depreciation, stationery or textbooks could now be claimed as a deduction. In the past, the Taxation Office had made it clear it would not allow educational expenses to be claimed against welfare payments. "The decision further complicates tax administration in the area of self-education expenses, an area that is already riddled with difficulties," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Tax Office said the decision was being assessed.


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